The BJP may pick a candidate who can help ensure all 25 Lok Sabha seats next year.
There are several frontrunners for the chief ministerial post in Rajasthan, where the BJP did not project any CM candidate and won 115 seats after contesting the assembly elections with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the face of the campaign.
The BJP’s parliamentary board will decide a candidate for the post based on the feedback of central observers. While PM Modi, home minister Amit Shah and BJP president JP Nadda held a meeting on Tuesday, the party is yet to announce central observers and it’s still unclear when the legislature party meeting will be held.
With the Lok Sabha election around the corner, the top leadership may look for a face that can ensure all 25 seats for the BJP. In the last two general elections, the Congress has drawn a blank in the state.
Let’s look at the frontrunners for the top post.
A two-time chief minister, Raje is the tallest BJP leader in the state. She became the first female chief minister of Rajasthan in 2003. Ten years later, she claimed the top post again.
The numerical strength of her loyalists keeps Raje in a pole position. Among the 115 MLAs, around 40 are considered close to Raje, according to sources in the party.
On Monday, at least 47 newly-elected MLAs met Raje at her Jaipur residence. Several others met her the next day. But by the evening, this reduced to a trickle, indicating that the Modi-Shah combine may have something else on their mind.
“People’s demand is Vasundhara-ji. She should be made CM,” said Bahadur Singh Koli, who was elected MLA from the Weir assembly constituency, after meeting her.
In the initial phase of the campaign, differences between Raje and the top party leadership had cropped up. The BJP excluded her from two key committees – manifesto and election management committees. In October, the first list of BJP’s 41 candidates did not include some of her loyalists, including Rajpal Singh Shekhawat and Narpat Singh Rajvi. But in the subsequent lists, with the inclusion of her loyalists, her concerns were assuaged to some extent.
By the end of the campaign, the Jhalrapatan MLA had addressed more than 50 public meetings. Had the BJP projected her as chief ministerial candidate, the party may have received more seats, state BJP sources said. But Modi and Shah seemed prepared for the gamble.
Om Prakash Mathur
Born in Rajasthan’s Pali, Mathur could prove to be a dark horse among the CM probables owing to his proximity to Modi and Shah.
Last year, he was appointed in-charge of Chhattisgarh. After the BJP victory, he tweeted: “It was called impossible. It’s done.” Known for his organisational skills, he has been in charge of several other states such as Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh.
A two-time Rajya Sabha member, Mathur was Rajasthan BJP president between January 2008 and July 2009. He began his innings with RSS as a pracharak in 1972. Mathur has also been national pracharak of the RSS. He is currently a member of the BJP’s central election committee.
The IAS-turned-politician was co-in charge of the Madhya Pradesh assembly elections. In the 2021 Union cabinet reshuffle, he was a surprise pick and given the key portfolios of railways, communications and electronics, and information technology. The 53-year-old is a Rajya Sabha member from Odisha.
Born in Jodhpur, Vaishnaw graduated from the district’s Jai Narain Vyas University with top honours in 1991. He then completed his MTech from IIT-Kanpur before becoming an IAS officer in 1994.
In the initial phase of his career, he garnered attention for using technology to track super cyclones in Odisha 1999. Later, he worked as private secretary to then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Burdened by debt owing to his MBA from Wharton School of Business in Pennsylvania, he took voluntary retirement and worked in private companies such as General Electric and Siemens.
Gajendra Singh Shekhawat
The Jal Shakti minister is another member of the Union cabinet who is said to be in contention. He began his political career from the college campus and became the president of the student union of Jai Narain Vyas University in Jodhpur in 1992.
A prominent Rajput leader in the state, he was the national general secretary of the BJP Kisan Morcha, the farmers’ wing of the party. The 56-year-old also served as co-convener of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, the economic wing of the RSS, and as the general secretary of Seema Jan Kalyan Samiti, an organisation dedicated to strengthening national security by developing border towns and villages.
He won his first Lok Sabha election from Jodhpur in 2014. Five years later, he repeated the feat by defeating former chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s son Vaibhav Gehlot.
In the 2020 Manesar rebellion, Congress leaders alleged that Shekhawat was involved in trying to topple the Gehlot government. In a letter to Modi, Gehlot wrote that Shekhawat and other BJP leaders were involved in the “conspiracy”.
Gehlot also accused Shekhawat of being part of the 900-crore Sanjivani Credit Cooperative Society “scam”, which is being investigated by the Special Operations Group of the Rajasthan Police.
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Arjun Ram Meghwal and Kirodi Lal Meena
If the BJP wants to woo SC and tribal voters ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, it may turn to its law minister Arjun Ram Meghwal, who is the Bikaner MP, and Kirodi Lal Meena, a Rajya Sabha member. SCs and STs account for more than 31 percent of the state population.
Meena had won the Sawai Madhopur constituency by 22,510 votes. Known for his protest marches separate from the BJP state unit, Meena won his first assembly election on a BJP ticket in 1985. He also served as a cabinet minister in the first Raje government from 2003 to 2008. He later quit the BJP over differences with her and rejoined the party in 2018.
Arjun Ram Meghwal is another IAS-turned-politician who is close to Modi and Shah. He won his first Lok Sabha election in 2009 from Bikaner. He has not lost the seat since then. Seen by Modi’s side, Meghwal comes to Parliament wearing his Rajasthani headgear. Earlier, he used to arrive at the Parliament complex on his bicycle. This stopped after he was inducted into the Modi cabinet in 2018.
Seen as the “Yogi Adityanath of Rajasthan”, Balaknath has garnered a lot of attention before and after the assembly polls. During the campaign, the chief priest of the Baba Mastnath Math likened the election contest to an India-Pakistan match. He won the Tijara Assembly constituency in Alwar by 6,173 votes. He was among seven BJP MPs who had been asked to contest in the state polls.
Balaknath’s political innings is on the account of his guru Chandnath, who also represented Alwar in the Lok Sabha. After the death of Chandnath in 2017, he contested as a BJP candidate from Alwar and won.
He is known to be close to Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, both of whom belong to the Nath sect, and businessman and yoga guru Ramdev. Adityanath was among the first senior leaders who came to Tijara during the poll campaign.
According to Axis My India exit polls, Balaknath was among the most preferred CM faces in BJP’s ranks in Rajasthan, ahead of Raje. During its election coverage, Newslaundry met several BJP supporters who wanted to see him as CM. If the BJP is keen to intensify its Hindutva politics ahead of the general elections, the Alwar MP could steal a march over others.
She was also among the BJP MPs from Rajasthan who were asked to fight the assembly polls. Kumari defeated Congress’s Sitaram Agarwal by a considerable margin of 71,368 votes to win the Vidhyadhar Nagar seat in Jaipur.
During the election, she was widely seen as a counter to Raje owing to the seat the party selected for her and her lineage. Vidhyadhar Nagar is considered a safe constituency for the BJP due to a favourable caste combination. The seat was won three consecutive times by Narpat Singh Rajvi, son-in-law of Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. Rajvi, a close aide of Raje, was asked by the party to contest from Chhittorgarh instead.
She joined the BJP in 2013 – the year in which she contested her first assembly polls. In 2019, the grand-daughter of Man Singh II, the last ruler of the erstwhile princely state of Jaipur, had won the Lok Sabha election from Rajsamand.